Podcast: Interview with Immigration Attorney Henry Lim
RJ Hello listeners. This is the Legal Translation Podcast. Today I will be interviewing immigration attorney Henry Lim. Hello Henry and welcome to the show.
HL Hi Reed, thank you very much.
RJ Tell me about yourself, Henry. Where are you from and what led you to practice immigration law?
HL I was born in Nicaragua, which is located in Central America and we moved to the States back in 1980 after escaping a civil war in Nicaragua. Our family underwent many years of struggle with the immigration process and along that way, several legal obstacles occurred, and it motivated me to learn more about immigration law.
So when I went to law school, I dedicated my studies to immigration, and participated in many pro bono projects; the Haitian Refugee Center, the Immigration Advocacy Center, and I'm very excited about it and I'm still very passionate about it eighteen years later. So that's a little bit about the reasons why I find it important to fight for people's dreams. And that's what we do every day. If people want to live in this country, we want to do everything possible to help them achieve those dreams.
RJ Wow! Next question: Why is it important for an immigrant to hire an attorney?
HL Well, immigration law is very complex. It is very important for people to seek proper advice, and what happens too often is that people get trapped into notarios, notaries or paralegals who do not have the legal capacity to offer advice, and every single question on immigration forms has a legal consequence, so the mere fact that helping someone fill out an immigration form can be considered giving legal advice and if one is not properly trained, one can get into some very serious problems.
I always tell people, people always ask me, "Do I need an immigration attorney?" And my answer is always, "No, you don't need one, but should you get one? Absolutely." And another thing that—a misconception with immigration as well, and this is why so many people get into trouble is they think that because it happens to my neighbor, because it happens to this person, that it necessarily has to happen for the next person as well. And immigration law is so complex that one slight variable that people may or may not catch makes all the difference within immigration.
So it's not a matter of just because it happens to one person that it will happen to the next person. And finally, a very serious misconception is that immigration law is simply filling out forms. Immigration law is about strategy, about knowing proper procedure, and how to zealously advocate for your client.
So there are many reasons why someone should hire an immigration attorney, particularly one who is experienced in immigration law. Because we're seeing today far too often the fact that a lot of people all of a sudden claim to be immigration experts or immigration lawyers when they have absolutely no experience or they have limited experience. One of the things about our practice here and the way that I was trained coming out of law school was to be trained in all aspects of immigration law. And what I mean by that is that I practice deportation, I practice citizenship, I practice family based, employment based, investors.
Why do I do this? Because if a client comes to my office, and they present a certain fact pattern, then I will be able to best advise them as to which way to go as far as immigration strategy, whereas if they go to a practitioner who only deals with let's say asylum law, that's the only thing that they know, that's the only thing that they will try to sell to that client. And that may not be the best alternative for that particular client.
So I believe that it is very important that someone go to someone with proper experience, proper knowledge within the field of immigration law. And one of the things that separates us is that is all we do, immigration law at our firm.
RJ I see. So did you study immigration as a separate subject within your legal studies?
HL Within my legal studies, I concentrated, because in law school, you don't necessarily major in a particular field of law. You study all aspects of law. But you do get to select which courses when it comes to electives. And I concentrated my electives around immigration law. I participated in immigration clinics. In my free time, I participated in several different projects relating with immigration interviewing detained people at the Krome detention center.
I went to law school at the University of Miami. And we had the opportunity to participate in certain pro bono programs where we got hands-on field experience. In addition to that, I took every immigration course that was available within the law school. So, that's something that I decided to do while in law school. Because I was interested in it from even before I decided to go to law school.
RJ Sure. I see. Okay. Let's say that you have just a typical Latin American immigrant because that's really what I focus on as a translator and my listeners as well. Someone arrives with or without a visa or permission or whatever. What are the steps from arrival to permanent residence? Generally speaking.
HL Well, that means—we could spend pretty much all day and all week talking about the different possibilities because there again, one of the variables that could determine what we can do for this particular person, you said, well the answer, "with or without a visa." That's a major, major difference, because if you entered with a visa, then there are many things we can do for you. If you entered without a visa, it is going to be very limited as to what we are going to be able to do for you. So, if we go with the route of someone entered with a visa, it depends on what type of visa they entered with, and then we'd go from there.
Change of status is one of the options, we change it perhaps into a student status, they finish school, they get a job, the job decides that they want to hire them and petition for them for their green card. That's one route. Another route would be that they come in and they want to invest in the United States. Depending on what country they're from, they may or may not qualify for certain investor visas. Or they want to transfer or open up a subsidiary here in the United States from a company from abroad. Or they get married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.
The possibilities are numerous for the person who enters with a visa and properly maintain status and so long as they do maintain that status. For the person who enters without inspection, that person will have a much more difficult time under today's laws as to what they can or cannot do, particularly if they're not eligible for what's called a personal waiver. When someone starts accruing unlawful presence in the United States, it becomes a serious problem. When someone enters without inspection, typically what that means that in order for them to finalize their status to get a green card, they are more than likely going to have to go back to their country to obtain that green card.
The problem with that is that if someone stays in this country for more than six months but less than a year out of status, and departs the United States, they subject themselves now to a three-year bar where they are not allowed to come back. And if that person has been undocumented for more than a year, and then leaves the US, then they will be subject to a ten-year bar.
So, let's break that down into plain English and what does that mean? Well that means that the person who enters unlawfully now decides, "well now I have... but if I leave, I have a penalty. Am I really going to leave? [inaudible] because if they leave, they can't come back. If they stay here, they are not going to be able to get their status.
So, this is one of the reasons why we push for so much comprehensive immigration reform, because it's an unintended consequence of this law—this three and ten-year bar—which aims to punish people who entered unlawfully, but at the same time, the unintended consequence is that it's keeping people undocumented here in the US.
RJ I see. It's like a Catch 22
RJ I get it. I've always wondered, I've heard about it a lot in the news... What is your stance on children who arrive on their own from Central American countries?
HL Well, that's a heartbreaking situation. The one thing I don't want to see happen is a continued policy of detention of these unaccompanied minors. We should find ways to reunite them with the closest family members available here in the United States, because some of these detention facilities, and the stories that we've heard from some of these detention facilities are just horrendous. They are escaping some serious, serious crime, and violence from their countries and they should be given at least an opportunity to have their stories heard, if they are able to make it here.
Now, at the same time, we don't want to encourage people from coming over here if it's a fashion because it is very, very dangerous. It is a very difficult situation to manage, because...I'm a parent. I cannot imagine some of the decisions that some of these parents have had to make in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador. The choice is, "I'm going to send my ten-year old child on a journey, by themselves, with strangers, crossing several countries"—so they can have a chance at life. Because, the alternative is, if they stay here, they will either join a gang and be killed, or just be killed for not joining the gang. And, as a parent—I have a ten-year old child—that is a heart-wrenching decision, and it's very, very unfortunate. We should have policies that help these countries combat some of this serious, serious crime occurring in some of these Central American countries.
RJ Certainly. And do advocate any kind of lobbying to better the relations with the US and those countries or some kind of aid to lessen the need for those children to migrate to the US?
HL Absolutely. Unfortunately, there's at least the perception, if not the reality, that the United States does not focus enough on the Western Hemisphere. And it's basically allowing these sorts of issues to materialize, and the consequence is, well, here you go, we have immigrants trying to come in from these countries because we're not paying attention to our own backyard. And I think that's something that the US foreign policy needs to take a better look at. As far as concentrating on our own backyard, you have countries like Venezuela—that country is in utter shambles right now—and everyone and their mother is trying to get out of that country because there is no food, there are no basic necessities, and it's a living hell over there. I was there about a year ago, and it's only gotten worse since I was there. But it's really a significant problem in our own backyard, and it's a shame because that country is so rich in resources and yet their own people don't have any food to eat. And I experienced that when I was there just about a year ago. And you have countries like that, you have countries—in Ecuador, suffering similar possibilities of overthrow of regimes, you have countries with rampant poverty and crime. It's a very serious issue in our own backyard, and we should be paying closer attention to these issues so that we can...because we would benefit from a stronger Western Hemisphere.
RJ Certainly. I don't doubt that. This is a little personal for me because I just get this feeling with the media that the media almost taunts you to take one side or the other and especially with the use of the word illegal or undocumented. What is your take on that? Do you ever refuse to help people because of a certain background or status or some other reason?
HL Refusing to represent someone usually means that I have no relief available for them. And what that means is that there is really nothing within the immigration code that allows me to help them. From a personal perspective, there are certain people who I don't feel comfortable representing. It's simply because of the nature of perhaps previous crimes, but for the most part, we do believe in second chances here in the United States. So if there is relief available, I will go ahead and do what I can under the law to help my clients. But one of the things about us is that we'll let the person know whether or not they have a case or what our feeling is as far as a case is concerned. Example again with Venezuela. A lot of people from Venezuela are applying for asylum. But not everyone is going to be eligible for asylum. So we find alternatives whenever possible to the asylum process because that may not be the best course for that particular client. So, as far as that is concerned, yes, we do turn down certain cases because the relief simply is not there. Now, as far as having the media divide us with illegal and undocumented, my stance is that no one is illegal. The proper term is undocumented. And as far as trying to divide us, I am for comprehensive immigration reform. I am not just advocating for a benefits side solution. I don't agree with open borders. No one on our side does, really. We don't really hear anyone from our side advocating for open borders. We want to have security in this country. We want to have respect of law. But at the same time, we need to find a humanitarian and compassionate solution to the people already here. We're talking about over 11,000,000 people living in the shadows here in this country that could be a potentially strong economic force for us. And to just turn our backs on them for the fact that they are undocumented—I don't think it serves us properly as a nation. We are a compassionate nation, and we are a nation of family values. And to tear these families apart, to tear apart our communities, is not what we are about, and we can do better. So we do advocate for a comprehensive solution to the problem of immigration here in the country. One that incorporates both enforcement, security, but also deals with the current issue of people already here. That is what we are trying to do. That is not dividing anyone, that is actually coming together for a proper solution. That is the way that we should be moving forward.
RJ Okay. Good. I would very much like to know about legal translation in your business. What kind of translations do you commission and what are they about and are they mostly Spanish to English or English to Spanish. How does that work?
HL They are usually Spanish to English. But we represent people from all over the world. So we have translations from—we require translations from just about every language. Now, anything that is in a foreign language that needs to be submitted to immigration needs to be translated and properly certified pursuant to the Code of Federal Regulations. Now, translations are very, very important. For example, we have a lot of clients from Bangladesh and the Bengali language over to the US. There is a dire need of proper translation services from a lot of documents that we receive from over there. We have offices in China now, and the translations need to be properly done, and sometimes, things get lost in the translation as the saying goes. And we need to make sure that it meets the legal definitions because one little phrase, one little thing that is off—the dates might be wrong. That could mean approval or denial of a case. Proper translations are crucial. We don't allow our clients to bring us their translations because what ends up happening is that they will hire their—or they will have their cousins or a friend do it, and they may know both languages, but translation is not about knowing both languages. Translation is a skill and it is something that needs to be properly done—particularly in the legal context. So we need to make sure that the translations are properly done in the legal field.
RJ I couldn't put that any better than you. In closing, I would like to ask you, where do you see the United States in another fifty years in light of immigrants, immigration and government policy today?
HL Well, the immigration policy today is quite scary, but nothing has ever stopped people from immigrating to the United States. The United States offers such wonderful opportunities to everyone that—it is really—it is a draw for people to come to the United States and we have had periods of restrictive immigration policy, we have had periods of open immigration policy, and nothing has ever stopped people from immigrating to the United States, so I do not see people stopping. Now, what I do fear is a slowdown in tourism to the United States which I believe there have been some recent reports about that, and that could impact a lot of our communities, particularly communities dealing with a tourism economy. For example, my offices are in Central Florida, and in Orlando, we depend on a tourism economy. So, we are very afraid about the short-term impact of these immigration policies from an economic perspective. As far as within fifty years, the country will be a minority-majority. And what I mean by that is minorities will represent the majority of the United States within the next—I believe it is twenty years. It won't even take fifty years for that. So, that is where I see our country going as more of an inclusive society because we have to be. We are a melting pot here in the United States and I believe that that is one of our strengths in the United States. And we need to assimilate—yes—but we need to also accommodate. And I believe that that is something that—it serves the US well to have such diversity in the United States.
RJ Thank you for your time, Henry. It has been both an education and a pleasure speaking with you.
HL Thank you, Reed. Anytime. Thank you so much for having me on your show.